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From the NIH Director: 2021 Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D.

Dear NIH Family,

On Monday, we join the Nation in remembering and celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s life and achievements. Dr. King's courageous efforts helped right injustices at home and around the world, and his legacy continues to guide us. Since those days of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, we have made progress, but we still have a long way to go to achieve the dream that Dr. King spoke about. That was made painfully clear this past year with the killing of George Floyd and other wrenching examples of racial injustice. In that context, this holiday is an especially good time to consider Dr. King’s example and redouble our efforts.

But to state the obvious, this holiday also falls at a time of great tumult in our nation. I am sure that Dr. King would be aghast at last week’s violent events that took place at the Capitol, and the continuing serious threats around the country. What we are witnessing in the denial of truth and the embrace of violence is the antithesis of what he stood for. Let’s reflect on his principles of peace, equality, and justice to help us get through these troubled times, and to be inspired by his unwavering hope and determination.

The federal legislation that established Martin Luther King, Jr. Day includes a challenge to Americans to transform the King holiday into a day of citizen action and volunteer service in his honor. I encourage all of us to reflect on how we can mirror Dr. King's example of service in our own lives, not only during this holiday, but every day. We have a unique advantage simply by working at NIH, where we have the opportunity to pursue a noble mission. Let’s build on that spirit of making the world a better place.

To many, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service is an opportunity to have a day on, not a day off. It is an opportunity to empower communities, develop relationships, and address social injustices with the intent to achieve Dr. King's dream. I cannot think of a more crucial time for us to come together, follow his lead, and do our part to honor his legacy. Of the many quotes from Dr. King, one stands out in my mind today, and hangs on the wall of my home office. “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” No one could deny that we are currently in the latter situation. Let us be fortified by Dr. King’s enduring strength and wisdom, and rise to the occasion by contributing peacefully and safely to service, healing, and reconciliation.

To learn more about Dr. King's legacy and beliefs on service and allyship, visit the NIH Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion's website, Twitter, Instagram, and/or Blog on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day to view the online campaign focusing on the theme: "Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr."

Sincerely yours,

Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D.

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